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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 Review - Dual GK104 Kepler Greatness

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

GPU Testbed - Sandy Bridge-E, X79, New Games

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review (and all those going forward) we decided it was high time we replaced the somewhat dated Nehalem-based infrastructure (even though honestly, it was fast enough) with something a bit more current.  Obviously that meant going with the new Intel Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 motherboard.  By combining support for 40 PCI Express lanes and 3-4 full size GPU slots it makes for the perfect GPU base.

From this point on, our reviews will based around the following system:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard
  • Corsair DDR3-1600 4 x 4GB Vengeance memory
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor HDD
  • 1200 watt Corsair Professional Series power supply
  • Windows 7 SP1 x64

The ASUS P9X79 Pro

The Intel Core i7-3960X gives us the fastest consumer-level CPU on the market to help eliminate the possibility of any processor-based bottlenecks in our testing (whenever possible).  There are still going to be some games that could use more speed (Skyrim comes to mind) but for our purposes this is as good as you get without getting into any kind of overclocked settings.  The ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard has enough space for three dual-slot graphics cards when the time comes for testing 3-Way SLI and CrossFire, and 8 DIMM slots should we want to go up from our current setup of 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory.  

I chose to stick with the 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive rather than an SSD as our total installation size with Windows 7 SP1 x64 and 6+ games was already hitting the 115GB range.  Finally the 1200 watt power supply from Corsair offers up more than enough juice for three power hungry graphics cards while running quietly enough to not throw off our noise testing drastically.

Speaking of noise, for this article we are re-introducing our sound level testing thanks to the Extech 407738 Sound Level Meter capable of monitor decibel ratings as low as 20db.  This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards at PC Perspective.

Along with the new hardware configuration comes a host of new games.  For this review we will be using the following benchmarks and games for performance evaluation:

  • Battlefield 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • DiRT 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Metro 2033
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • 3DMark11
  • Unigine Heaven v2.5

This collection of games is both current and takes into account several different genres as well - first person role playing, third person action, racing, first person shooting, etc.  3DMark11 and Unigine Heaven give us a way to see how the cards stack up in a more synthetic environment while the real-world gameplay testing provided by the six games completes the performance picture.

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With a soaring price tag like $999, the GeForce GTX 690 4GB has few, if any, direct competitors.  We are going to be breaking up the review into two segments: best single graphics card and best dual-GPU solution.  The first is simple, what are the best single cards on the market to go against the GTX 690?  You have the new GTX 680, the Fermi-based GTX 590 dual-GPU card and the dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990.  Both the GTX 590 and the HD 6990 are impossible to find, but they are the reigning kings.

The second comparison will look at the new GTX 690, a pair of individual GTX 680 cards in SLI and a pair of Radeon HD 7970 3GB cards in CrossFire.  

We used the latest driver versions on the HD 7900 cards (Catalyst 12.4) and for NVIDIA's new GTX 690 we had a pre-release version of the 301.33 driver.  

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • NVIDIA GTX 690 4GB vs GTX 590 3GB and HD 6990 4GB - The battle for the fastest single graphics card in the world starts here...
  • NVIDIA GTX 690 4GB vs GTX 680 SLI - Is there a noticeable performance difference between the single card SLI solution and getting two separate GTX 680 cards and running SLI?
  • NVIDIA GTX 690 4GB vs HD 7970 3GB CrossFire - While we still don't have a Radeon HD 7990 in our hands, how close does a pair of HD 7970 cards actually get us?  Can the upcoming AMD New Zealend card keep up?

Now, with that out of the way, let's get on with the results and see how the new Kepler dual-GPU card performs!!

May 3, 2012 | 06:45 AM - Posted by Asmodyus (not verified)

I am I the only one out there that thinks this card is to expensive? This is what not making since to me the GTX580 599 when it came out. GTX590 699-799 when it came out. GTX680 499. GTX690 1000.

I am sorry but that cost is way to high for a single video card regardless if it's 2 chips. I hope nvidia falls flat on there face. But has they say there is a lot of stupid people who will buy this card at that price.

May 3, 2012 | 07:44 AM - Posted by Bro (not verified)

Blame AMD for it. They are late with HD 7990.

May 3, 2012 | 05:18 PM - Posted by Pellervo (not verified)

The reason the price is so high is because IT IS what they say it is: fastest card on the planet. Let me put it simply: 680= $500K Ferrari. 690= million dollar F1. 690 is for those enthusiasts with the wallet.

May 7, 2012 | 09:42 PM - Posted by Mr King

I think with the 580 and 590, the 590's performance didn't match that of two 580s in SLI while the 690 does match two 680s in SLI. I think from that perspective the price makes some sense. I'm not happy to see the return of the thousand dollar video card, but there are other options too.

Although the Mars 2 was considerably more card than two 580s yet it wasn't twice the price. Then there is the whole issue of it being impossible to buy a Mars card.

May 8, 2012 | 10:35 PM - Posted by Branthog

I don't see what's wrong with a dual GPU card being $1,000 if it's okay for the single GPU card to be $500. Does that mean you think two single GPU cards for $500 each is okay, but stuffing a single $1,000 card is just "too much"?

Yeah, it's over-priced, but exactly what kind of price point would you plan on hitting with the different offerings they have right now, without severely undercutting the competition, unnecessarily?

Besides, chances are they'll be lower in a few months.

June 24, 2012 | 09:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No, your the only one out their that is publicly complaining about the price tag of this card and how broke you are! Lol...calling people idiots that can afford to burn their $$ on this card? Really? I have this card and it smashes all games I load on it with all the setting set to ultra and well my eyes can only pickup 30 fps but believe you me the game play is excellent. Crysis, all settings are set to maximum and I'm not getting any tears or stutter...very smooth game play and in my book well worth the buy. I'll be looking at buying a second card next month why? Because I run x3 monitors and I will be playing 3D surround but the other reason is because I can not because I'm an idiot.

December 21, 2012 | 08:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Very awesome.

But every time messages like these pop up my first thought is: 'you wasted a bucketload of cash'.

Ofcourse its entirely up to you, but the funny thing is that in the price segment of 500 and up, you are wasting tons of money on percentiles of performance gain.

Don't kid yourself.

May 3, 2012 | 07:49 AM - Posted by D1RTYD1Z619

After see this review I'd rather wait for the GTX680 prices to come down to SLI them. I have one already and am not having issues running any of my games at their highest setting on my current monitor's(1600*1200)resolution.

May 3, 2012 | 04:54 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

You should honestly get a new monitor- you arent taking advantage of the 680.

May 5, 2012 | 11:37 AM - Posted by D1RTYD1Z619

But keeping this resolution will extend the life of my card because it will have to push less pixels.

May 6, 2012 | 11:41 AM - Posted by Ewe (not verified)

If you wait any longer, you will likely never get a 690 GTX. I highly doubt they will make many of these cards. You can't get a 590 anymore, that's for sure.

May 20, 2013 | 06:42 PM - Posted by battlewuss (not verified)

I got my GTX 590 two weeks ago :p

August 22, 2013 | 12:41 PM - Posted by Hugh (not verified)

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May 17, 2012 | 04:33 PM - Posted by pat (not verified)

You all seem to be forgetting that the 690 also has twice the vram of a single 680. This will matter if you plan on playing with 3 screens. I have 3 gtx 570 2.5 gig and battlefield 3 is using just under 2 gig vram, and the game is not even maxed out. Fyi 2 680s with 2 gig vram does not add up to 4 gig vram in sli. The system can only utilize the vram on one card. So there you have it, the 690 in my opinion is actually worth more than 2 680, do to the 4 gigs of vram.

June 11, 2012 | 10:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's the same deal on the 690. In the case of normal sli the textures need to be loaded into the memory for both cards and thus the memory is not added together. The same is true for the 690. It has 2gb per core and those same textures need to be loaded into both. And so the memory per core is exactly the same. In the case of these dual gpu cards you always half the memory that it says on the box to give you the accurate reading for the amount of memory that is going to be used.

May 3, 2012 | 08:36 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Would there be any difference between SLI 680's and a single 690? I would think that although the 680's will take more space, that the dedicated slot will improve bandwidth capability (or maybe not because of the sli adapter?).

May 3, 2012 | 08:47 AM - Posted by Tim K (not verified)

I am also very curious between the actual pro's and cons performance wise when comparing to this card to 2 680s in SLI. I am no savvy on mulit card setups but on the surface I see the benefits on only using a 2 slot form factor and less power with the 690, but worry a single point of failure with a very complex and hot running component. Would love to know if there are any performance advantages gained by having it on once PCB vs 2 cards in SLI.

May 3, 2012 | 10:38 AM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

I thought someone might ask that - http://www.pcper.com/news/Graphics-Cards/Why-would-you-want-buy-GTX690

May 3, 2012 | 10:21 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

The GTX 690 does make better sense than a 680 SLI setup if you are buying right now. If I were in the market though, I'd simply buy a 680, wait a year for the prices to come down, and then buy another. Yeah, I know, you're not getting the insane frame rates right now, but seriously, if you need something faster than a 680 at this time...let's just say I'd love to see the monitor setup!

May 8, 2012 | 10:36 PM - Posted by Branthog

Unfortunately, I have seen benchmarking that suggestions quad SLI (dual 690s) is actually worse performance than triple SLI or possibly even dual SLI.

The benching was not entirely conclusive as to whether this was a driver limitation, application (game) limitation, or a combination of the two.

December 21, 2012 | 08:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Tri and quad SLI are well-known to scale badly, so this is nothing new.

The best scaling is achieved with Dual SLI. Above that, consider upgrading your card a notch instead of adding a third or fourth.

Let alone the issues concerning heat dissipation and power supply. For these last two, the 690 offers a (partial) solution but for the primary argument, the 690 changes nothing about the scalability of quad SLI.

May 3, 2012 | 11:48 AM - Posted by flatland (not verified)

Bjorn3D did a comparison between two GTX 680s and the GTX 690.

May 5, 2012 | 09:52 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Well...so did we...?

May 3, 2012 | 03:46 PM - Posted by SirPauly (not verified)

Ryan,

In your 3d vision performance investigations with the GTX 690, well, how did you receive those high averages when V-sync is enabled with 3d vision?

May 3, 2012 | 10:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Always go with the single gpu option for anyone thinking of going SLI. I have sli 570's right now and it's beautiful when it works but a LOT of games don't properly support it and never will. Until the technology gets better, go for a better single gpu IMO. Maybe not one that costs 1k but still.

December 21, 2012 | 08:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have personally yet to discover the first game that would actually benefit from SLI, that doesn't support SLI setups.

Sure, your retro game collection isn't supported, but who needs an SLI setup for that?

Far Cry 3 was playable in SLI from day one, and I had zero issues with the 310.70/64 drivers. 80-110 fps steady with all possible candy on the screen. And this is with dual GTX 660 even.

In the case of my dual GTX 660 setup, I have a GTX 680 equivalent for 120 euro's less than the cost of a 680. Done deal.

May 4, 2012 | 08:39 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Resolution is the key for what you purchase for graphics cards. If you do not play at 2650 or higher then you are wasting your money on this card. As I play at 5760 x 1080 I am very interested as my current 2 x 580 classifieds actually draw enough power to kick my breaker if my wife turns on the bathroom lights. I DO wish they had more vram on the cards, but for now it works just fine.

May 4, 2012 | 08:46 AM - Posted by I'm Hit! (not verified)

compared to sli 680 2way. the two way beats the 690 by about 2-4%. But the 690 runs quieter, cooler and takes about 30-50watts less power.

You will not notice that minor percentage loss in games. Get one from a reputable end card partner and just RMA your 690 if one or both gpu's fail on the card.

I am going from a 580 Classified to the 690 for my 30inch monitor = 2560 x 1600 resolution

May 5, 2012 | 09:50 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

You are a graphics monster sir!

December 21, 2012 | 08:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would also reckon that the 690 has less noticeable framedrops or micro stutter than dual 680, no?

Even though currently that is hardly an issue it still doesn't look nice in bench :)

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